We left Waiheke on the 9am ferry, picked up our hire car and were in Hamilton by midday. Our next accommodation was a super little Airbnb flat (resolution..keep tidy). We met Steve and his Mum, Linda, who’d both arrived in Hamilton a few days earlier, for an evening meal then set off the next day to meet Claire and family.

We travelled South from Hamilton through rolling, lush, green countryside that looked rather English except for the large numbers of cattle.

Claire and family had been travelling slowly north for the last few days yet we arrived within 2 mins of each other. Sat Nav, or GPS as they call it in NZ, has worked perfectly… far…

Waitomo is famous for the glow worms in it’s limestone caves – New Zealand is one of only two places in the world to have them – the other is Australia.

Spending 3 hours in caves was not everyone’s idea of how to spend a sunny day. Even so all eight of us set off by mini bus driven by our guide along roads and tracks through rolling green pastures with outcrops of rock and areas of woodland.

We walked 10 minutes down to the first cave where we each put on our hard hat complete with head torch.

After another 10 minute walk through a tunnel into the cave we switched off the lights and there were glowworms all around us! We then boarded a small boat for a magical voyage in the dark with glow worms overhead.

The worms are the larvae of a gnat and thrive in moist dark caves. The lifecycle is complex but let’s just say the glow is a chemical reaction. Pictures don’t do the experience justice but none of us will forget it.

After a daylight break for hot chocolate and biscuits we visited more caves where, as well as glowworms, we saw amazing limestone rock formations and cave coral.

The excitement mounted as we all drove back Hamilton for dinner at Poonam’s parents home, the next day would be Day 1 of the wedding celebrations.

We’ll be back to tell you all about it in a few days

Hey Waiheke!

Deciding against the Holiday Inn breakfast we walked out to a cafe for early morning workers on an adjoining light industrial park… excellent coffee and egg/toms on toast.

We took a taxi downtown to the Old Ferry House on Auckland harbour. Having parked our numerous bags we explored the sea front until it was time for the 40 min passenger ferry to the Island of Waiheke which nestles in the Hauraki Gulf.

Hauraki is Maori for North Wind which we encountered together with violent storms and hot sun during our three night stay.

The climate of Waiheke is Oceanic or Sub-tropical depending which scale you use. (This is for Anne, our geographer). Everywhere we saw the New Zealand ‘Christmas Tree’ or pohutukwa just coming into bloom.

Our Servas Friends Sally and Graeme had invited us to stay on their island jewel while we recovered from the long flights. It’s just beautiful. The landscape is a mixture of forest and grassland with lovely sandy beaches, rugged shoreline, boutique vineyards, pretty villages and interesting folk.

The picture above is the view from Graeme and Sally’s home on Anzac Bay.

We met artists, craftspeople, a walk guide, a buildings inspector ………..

We drank coffee, explored the shops, went to a hilarious stand-up comedy show (jet-lagged, Jan nodded off), walked the beaches, explored the bush and marvelled at the plants whilst all the while talking and catching up on the four years since we first met in Shalford.

With a shared interest in community gardening it was good to see the examples our friends are involved in.

And so thanks so much Sally and Graeme. A wonderful start to our New Zealand adventure.

Now where is the rest of the UK contingent?

(Servas is an international association promoting friendship and peace by providing opportunities for personal contact between people all over the world.(

Where did Saturday go?

Friday evening at 5.45 might be the worst time to drive to Heathrow.  Not with our taxi driver though – he got us there in an hour, just as well, as he didn’t stop talking all the way!

Heathrow Airport is all about the shopping with luxury brands galore. 

So we joined in and had a look at the magazines in Smith’s newsagents.  We were fascinated to see a stylish-looking one called ‘Laundry’ – especially as it turned out to be …… all about washing and cleaning. I wonder who buys it. Here it is

Taking this photo attracted more staff attention than I’d hoped for so we quickly moved on.

We thought Heathrow was a temple of consumerism until we saw Hong Kong airport.  

In amongst all the luxury goods they have found room for the essentials, including the pot noodle dispensing machine. But no trace of a hot water supply.

It was evening when we left with great views of the city.  That may have been Saturday as it was Sunday lunchtime when we arrived in Auckland 12 hours later.

We had to go through the ‘Something to Declare’ channel as they check everyone’s outdoor equipment, in our case, walking boots.  It’s a precaution to protect the environment from external contamination.

After dinner at the Post Office pub we got into bed at 7.30pm and didn’t get out again until 7am on Monday morning when worked out how to get to the Island of Waiheke, our next stop.

Next time we’ll share our experiences there.

Wow! Valencia (2)

There was just so much to see, so many places to go and such a lot of interesting buildings wherever we went.

The medieval silk exchange, Llotja de la Seda, was a shock. Not due to the beauty of the place but the volume of visitors. Somehow we’d been sheltered from mainstream tourism, suddenly we were flung right into it. Rightly so, it’s an inspiring place and a World Heritage Site.  The spiral columns are an absolute marvel, the orange tree courtyard strangely peaceful and from the outside it looks like a gothic cathedral!

Equally bold, in it’s way, is the futuristic design of the City of Arts and Sciences, 21st century architecture at it’s most amazing.

There’s a arts centre/opera house, a planetarium/cinema, a science museum and an aquarium. It took us most of a day to visit the last two.

It seems the City is still in debt for the huge cost of construction and there are already maintenance issues but the whole area had a very positive vibe.

Different again, the Museum of Prehistory is housed in the former Casa de Beneficia, Charity House, organised round five courtyards in traditional 19th century Valencian style. It’s exhibitions cover the life and labours of human societies in the Valencia region from prehistoric times up to the Roman period. Fascinating, if you like that kind of thing! We couldn’t take it all in, we got up to the 5th century BC so we’ll have to go back to learn more. The reconstruction of a house from this period was illuminating – but where did they sleep?

As much as anything we enjoyed walking the streets, enjoying the atmosphere, the graffiti and the food!

Next we went to Girona.

Wow! Valencia

We loved Valencia. It was only a short journey by bus and taxi from Biar but such a contrast. After week of rural tranquillity we were both ready for a taste of city life and Valencia offered everything we could wish for.

So here, in no particular order are some of the things we enjoyed.

We stayed right in the heart of the old quarter with it’s tiny, winding streets. One hundred and eighty years old, the building we stayed in was in perfect harmony. Here’s what the apartment looked like inside. Notice the beautiful floor tiles!i

That’s me in the mirror!

And outside, with Alan on the balcony.

On a recommendation from Andrew, one of the Biar walkers, we sought out the paintings of Joaquin Sorolla in the Museo de Bellas Artes. Born in Valencia in 1863, Sorolla was a hugely successful modern painter. Like his impressionist contemporaries he love painting in sunlight producing beach scenes, landscapes, portraits and more.

Most of the other works in the gallery are much older and include examples by the Spanish greats including Goya, Velasquez and El Greco.

We went to the market, a very impressive art nouveau building, where we bought fruit and olive oil. Nearby we came across a well-stocked, traditional hat shop, all styles available and so we bought a hat!

The Turia River used to run through the centre of the city to the sea. After parts of the city were devastated by floods in 1957 it was diverted south of the city. This major intervention left a huge tract of river bed which has been turned into a vast urban park running through the city. It’s well maintained and well used.

We hired bikes for a day and rode through the Turia Gardens to the beach, a vast expanse of sand. It was very sunny but windy and the sea was decided chilly – paddling only!


The next post will be about other amazing buildings in Valencia and the museums we visited.

Moros y Cristianos

Or, in English, Moors and Christians. These festivals commemorate the 700 years when much of Spain was occupied by the Moors, who were Muslims from North Africa, and the eventual reconquest by Catholic monarchs in the late 15th century. Usually the capture of a town or city by the Moors is enacted followed by the subsequent reconquest by the Christians. Miniature castles are erected where mock battles are staged and there are processions and other events over several days with different groups representing the two sides all wearing elaborate costumes.

Biar and the surrounding towns are famous for their celebrations. We were a week too early to enjoy the ones in Biar but the castle was already in place in the main square. But a week too late for nearby Alcoi, reputed to be the most impressive festival of all, where the castle was being dismantled the day I was there! More about my visit to Alcoi in another post.

Eventually we did manage to see the final procession of the celebrations in another nearby town, Onil.

These events are so big that in Alcoi there is a museum solely dedicated to them and in Biar there is a tailor whose only business appears to be making festival costumes.

Next we’ll be posting about the lovely city of Valencia!

Return to La Mariposa


We had a ride in La Bastilla’s pickup to Jinotega bus station where there were no seats left on the 9am bus to Managua.  So we bought our tickets for the 10.30 service and sat down to wait, fortified by instant coffee and a packet of “Maria” biscuits.

After 3.5 hours on the bus we were delighted to see the Mariposa bus and the driver, Joshua, waiting for us at Mayoreo bus station.

It was busy week.  First we set off to see how the spider monkeys were doing. Very well, it turned out, in fact when we arrived the female had undone her lead and was enjoying her liberty on the shed roof! We discovered that setting the world to rights whilst monkey watching is a most relaxing activity! The plan is to eventually set them free but continue to provide food, hammocks and night boxes.

Next we went shopping for plants –  for the garden outside the cabin and the space at the hotel where the parakeet cage had been demolished. Also on our list were a birdbath and a tree for Richard, one of the staff who was leaving at the end of the week. The poor old bus was pretty full on the way back!

Together with Paulette we went to nearby Jinotepe to sample ‘the best Italian restaurant in Nicaragua’ to discover we had another ninety minute wait before it opened.  Instead of coffee and biscuits we had a couple of beers in Barry’s bar before an excellent dinner and a bottle of wine. Surprisingly, there were some sore heads next morning!

Next day there were speeches and a cake for Richard.

At the weekend Janie and las chicas came to visit – which mean two extra beds had to be delivered to the cabin, fortunately there’s lots of room. It was a hectic two days. At night the girls played dominoes while the adults enjoyed the evening on the patio sampling Nicaraguan rum. Of course we went monkey watching – Paulette said ‘Don’t touch the monkeys’, Zaira and Sienna took that to mean there was no problem if the monkeys touched them!

The cabin and garden are looking lovely now, as well as the planting the shutters and doors have been varnished, the outside walls painted together with the kitchen, toilet and shower. Even the floor of the shower has been tiled.  We really hope that it will be attractive to guests who prefer self contained accommodation away from the bustle of the hotel. It’s a great place to enjoy the rural environment and watch the birds.

A highlight was the arrival of two of the parakeets who were set free in the first week – they were using an abandoned ant’s nest up a tree to make a home for themselves.

And then it was time to come home where a lovely English Spring was already underway.